Take your time to make big decisions after a loss

  • My yard is still pretty with only half the yard work and expense, and perennials replaced most of the annuals.

    My yard is still pretty with only half the yard work and expense, and perennials replaced most of the annuals. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted10/5/2019 7:25 AM

After loss of a beloved spouse or parent, some decisions just take time. And it's good they do because making big ones in the chaos and intense hurt immediately after a death is not a wise idea.

Most people are too upset and engulfed in all the new pain of the death to make clear and best choices.


In my own experience, there are two types of problems that caused delays in otherwise needed decisions:

One is not knowing what to do.

The other is that I just couldn't let go.

Seven years later, and with 20/20 hindsight, I know I would have benefited a lot financially if I'd taken certain actions sooner. But I also understand why I delayed and realize my wait was OK and healthy -- from an emotional point of view.

1. Not knowing what to do, or not recognizing what needs to be done:

This is common and understandable. In the aftermath of the death of a beloved spouse or parent, a person needs some time to think through what is best.

And also we may not even notice some matters that should be addressed or changed.

I certainly experienced a lot of these quandaries. Several matters that needed changes took me several years to see. Some were very practical.

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In my case, we never did our own mowing and yard upkeep or planting, so I still have help. We used to have extensive yard work done Spring through fall. But I finally realized I could have half as much work done and still have a pretty and mowed yard. And I switched to perennials.

Other items are small but make a difference -- such as replacing all the light bulbs with LED bulbs, cutting the light bill in half. And if you are near or at retirement, or have lost some income, these actions surely will help.

Some problems and decisions are bigger -- examples include whether to stay or move, or whether to sell a house (a house that really may no longer be affordable or is simply too big), whether to keep that extra car, whether you need to establish a trust or make changes in your will, what to do (if anything) with certain valuable possessions and clothes.

And sometimes delays don't have much to do with money, but with other issues such as storage, upkeep, disagreements among family members, or just reluctance to "let go."


2. Letting go:

This is a different problem than indecision because it often means quitting or giving up on something that was important in your life.

It is hard to face the fact that you don't need it anymore. There may be several items or memberships that you just can't let go. These may be highly emotional -- and the best decision (for you) may not be the logical, rational, or the most financially advantageous choice. So it takes time to act, if at all.

I had several of these attachments rooted in my life with my dear husband. Actually they were both financial and emotional.

The biggest ones were memberships in two clubs that were part of our social life. It took me a long time to admit to myself that I just didn't need them anymore. I didn't go there at all, or seldom did. They were expensive whether used or not.

It took me four years to let one go, and six years to give up the other. It felt like slamming the door. But eventually I readjusted my thinking to realize it was for the best.

And, of course, I saved a lot. Could have saved much more if I'd taken action earlier, but it took time to accept the reality of resigning.

We had such happy times at both clubs. Finally, I realized I still have all those happy memories for myself, they are still in my heart. I let go.

One item I just could not give up is Baheej's favorite car, Hamza, (this means the horse that runs fast across the desert). Baheej loved that car. Hamza is 26 years old now and I still keep him on the road. And I have a battery charger in our garage when I store him for the winter.

It would make sense to let Hamza go or at least take him off the road, saving the cost of insurance, annual registration, repairs, etc. -- but I can't do that.

Hamza is fun to drive and I always think of my dear Baheej enjoying that car. Just yesterday I went to a local festival and parked it in a very tight parking space where only Hamza with his precision maneuvering could fit!

So the point is: Give yourself some time if possible and do not be too hard on yourself if you wait longer than you should to make decisions. Better than making the wrong decision or one you'll regret.

Of course some choices must be made immediately out of need -- but others fall into the circumstances discussed here. It's not unusual to take several years to reach clarity on what is financially and emotionally best for you.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan/.

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